Date: September 10, 2017
Text: Genesis 37:1-11
Title: A Redemptive Dream of God: Joseph’s Story #1
During this summer, we went over the story of Jacob. It was a story of how God reshaped his identity from a trickster to a person of blessing. He fooled his brother in his eagerness for the birth right. He even fooled his father, Isaac, who was weak and blind. However, God called him out to the wilderness and made him go through a time of changing his identity. His original name, Jacob, meant the grabber. But God blessed him at the river after the night of wrestling and called him Israel. This month, I invite you to walk with me with the narrative of Jacob’s son, Joseph, a dreamer, through whom God delivered his entire family from the famine and brought to reconciliation.
Interestingly, Joseph’s story begins with another dysfunctional family. His father, Jacob, experienced the parental favoritism. Jacob was favored by his mother, Rebecca. His brother was favored by his father, Isaac. Although many of us believe that we equally love our children, many psychologists suggest that it is natural to admit that we favor a certain child over others due to the gender, personality, or certain need. Well, parental favoritism, however, often leads to the conflict and brokenness within the family. And the book of Genesis tells us that Joseph was the favorite of his father among his 12 children because he was born while Jacob was old.
Just imagine that parents decide to divide their inheritance for their children. They give their 15 years old pick-up truck to you. But they decide to buy a new sedan for your brother or sister. And they tell you, “We equally love you both.” Would you believe what they say? Or would you be jealous of your sibling and complain the unfair treatment from your parents? This is what Jacob does. Because he loved Joseph among other sons, he made an ornate robe with long sleeves. Joseph wore his robe to show his brothers that he was the favorite son of his father over his brothers. The scripture tells us that they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Although the popular image of Joseph from our Sunday school and movie might describe him as a faithful man with God’s dream, we find his character, not just immature but also arrogant. The scripture says that he was a young man of seventeen. It is a wonderful age. My former parishioner who recently deceased used to tell me how he met his lovely wife from the high school when he was only 17 years old at the prom party. Some are filled with excitement for going to the college. Some are filled hope for working and starting their careers. Many 17 years old are eager to leave their parents and gain their independence from them.
I am sure that Joseph was a young man with many excitements for his future. But see after he tended the flocks with his brothers, he came home and went to his father to bring a bad report about them. “Dad, Reuben forgot to give the water to your sheep. You know, Judah only sleeps during the day while I work hard for you.” Well, his father Jacob does not correct him but allows him to be spoiled. And how more trouble comes to him because of his dreams. He had a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves of grain in the field. Then his sheaf rose, and the sheaves of his brothers gathered around and bowed down to it. He not only dreams but also knows what it means. But he immaturely goes to his brothers and tells them about it. And the scripture tells us that they hated him all the more.
Here is more trouble. Joseph had another dream. This time, the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. He knew that his brothers were pretty upset when he first told them about his first dream. But it seems that he is eager to upset them even more. He again goes to his brothers and tells them the dream that his entire family including his mother and father would bow down to him. Joseph lacks humility. He is so caught up in his achievement, dream, and success. It is all about him. He does not care about how others might feel about him.
How about you? What were you like when you were 17 years old? Were you filled with many visions and dreams for your future? What did you want to become as you were growing up? What kind of family did you want to make or what kind of spouse did you think you were going to meet? What was your character like? Were you a person of humility caring about others around you? I wonder how many of us can relate to Joseph that when we were 17 years old, our life revolved around us. It was about my career. It was about my house. It was about my family. It was about my success…
I admit that I can relate to Joseph when I was 17 years old. When I was in the high school, my neighborhood was notorious for its poor education. Going to a college is a choice one can make. But the chance was very limited in our town. But with the grace of God, I was able to make it to a good school through which I met my wife, Sungha. But when I was at the school, I was not grateful. I thought that I was there because I was a smart kid. I was full of complaints. I was critical of Christianity, condemned the church for its corruption and exclusivity, and everything.
For Joseph, his arrogance and insensitivity bring him to the unwanted pitfall of his life. His father, Jacob, asked him to go and check on them grazing the flocks near Shechem which was about 60 miles away from him. When he arrived at Shechem, his brothers took it as an opportunity to plot against him and even kill him. They say, “Let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him.” Just imagine how hateful his brothers were against Joseph because of his broken relationship with them over the years fueled by the favoritism of their father.
But Reuben, the first son of twelve, tries to alter the plan and save his life. “Don’t shed any blood. Let’s just throw him into this cistern in the wilderness” They were eating their meat while their brother Joseph was starving in the pit. Then they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites going on their way to Egypt. Another brother Judah says, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead.” Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and tried to cover up the story by killing a goat and dipping the robe that their father made for him in the blood. They brought the bad report to their father, “We found this.” Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for him saying, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.”
Joseph, a young man, spoiled by his father’s favoritism, a young man who was arrogant and self-centered, is now forced to live as a slave. He is taken out of his comfort and privilege and forced to unknown future. In “What’s your Story?” Sarah Heath insightfully suggests that God calls Joseph out to adventure through what seems like a pitfall in his life. Just like his father, Jacob was reshaped in his character through the trials under his uncle, God calls Joseph to go to unknown territory believing that God will surely walk with him and reshape his identity and alter his life. We will learn more about the redemptive plan of God through the turmoil of Joseph. But the message seems clear to me. When we think that it is all about me, God calls us tells us that it is not about us. It is actually about God. It is also about others God calls us to serve.
I was retired from the military in 2001. I was still disillusioned with my life being arrogant and self-centered. But I was not happy that although I was studying at the seminary, I did not have a call to ministry but only grumbling about the church. I was 20 years old and came to visit my uncle and aunt in Baltimore for two months. On Sundays, we always went to a Korean immigrant church. One Sunday, I decided to visit a United Methodist Church on the same block as the Korean church. The pastor was very graceful. The congregation was very diverse with white, black, and Hispanic/Latinos. I was very touched by the pastor who was full of energy and joy walking back and forth engaging the congregation. After the worship, he asked me what I was doing in Korea. When I told him that I studied theology, he said, “Oh, you should go to Boston University. I went to the school as well.”
I did not know at that time that God was speaking through the minister that God was calling me to follow God to unknown adventure. It was a journey that called me to come out of my family, friends, and comfort zone in Korea. But I am glad that I was able to follow God by God’s grace at that time. It is because I came to realize that it was not about me. Although I was an arrogant and self-centered person, God made me see an alternative reality through the congregation in Baltimore. Maybe some of us today feel like that we are trapped in the pit just like Joseph was. You are not happy about your situation because you believe that you were forced to be there. But I hope that we see the hands of God calling us to follow to unknown adventure through which God will bless not just us but also those around us.
As theologian Donald Miller says, the story we live today is a redemptive story of God. It is about how God saves us from our sins and calls us to live as God’s children in our faithful response to God’s grace. It is not about us. But it is about God. And it is about the people and God’s creation that God is calling us to go and serve in God’s love. I hope that we answer the call and follow God even though we cannot predict our future, we cannot calculate the benefit. But God has a wonderful plan for us. God has a story of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation at the end of the story for us. Let us boldly take out steps to the adventure together. Amen.